Russell Township is named after Peter Russell, a former provincial administrator during the late 1700s in the early days of the newly-created Province of Ontario. Russell owned slaves and during his time in government fought against efforts to outlaw slavery in Ontario. That historic link, along with an online petition calling on the municipality to change its name and reject its connection with Peter Russell, has some members of council thinking that the township needs a new namesake.
“In the past few weeks, events around the world have highlighted the issues of racism and discrimination,” states Mayor Pierre Leroux, on his municipal Facebook page. “It has brought to the forefront, the need for conversations, understanding and reflection now more than ever.
“Peter Russell of 200 years ago by no means embodies the Russell of today, or even the Russell of the past. However, we cannot deny the current origin of the name.”
Mayor Leroux, with support from Councillor Mike Tarnowski, plans to introduce a motion at the June 15 council teleconference session. The motion will state that the township and its residents do not want to be associated with Peter Russell, and to find a new namesake to rededicate the municipality’s name.
The mayor proposes creation of a community-based committee to collect and review submissions from township residents about someone who they think is worthy to be the municipality’s new namesake. The one condition is that the person proposed must have Russell as either a first and last name.